Thursday, July 06, 2006

Starlight Mints

There are always some musicians or bands that get critical adoration no matter what they do. Because of their 'genius' reputation, they could record 5 minutes of static and cat meow's, and it would be considered genius. I consider Jack White of the White Stripes to be one of those people. And it sucks, because I actually like a lot of the work that Jack White does. But...come on. Everything he does isn't amazing. Some of it's great, some of it's terrible. And just because he starts a side band, calls it the Raconteurs, and puts out an allegedly catchy song doesn't mean that every adult alternative and rock DJ in the country has to fall over him or herself to be the first one to call it a fantastic work of amazing genius.

Why am I mentioning this? Because the Starlight Mints of Norman, Oklahoma, are what the Raconteurs would be if they were actually as good as everybody says they are. What a revelation this was, walking into tiny Rainbow Records on Western in Oklahoma City and picking up their latest, Drowaton. I had no idea what to expect, but since I'd heard of them and knew they were the latest "Next Flaming Lips" (the label given to every weird and/or creative OKC band), I figured I could support some local artists. Two days later, I went back to Rainbow and bought their other two albums. Great stuff.

I figure if you can name 10 bands whose influence you can hear in somebody's sound, then that means that somebody has a pretty damn unique sound. So here goes: Guster, Queens of the Stone Age, Rolling Stones, U2, Pavement, Flaming Lips, Beatles, Husker Du, Beck, Bright Eyes.

"Pumpkin" sets a perfect mood for the rest of the album, while Track two, "Torts", has what basically amounts to a chorus of whistling. With these two songs, they prove that they're willing to attempt anything for the sake of catchiness and melody, and they succeed more often than not. They dabble in punk, folk, plain ol' rock, and whatever else strikes their fancy, mix in a healthy amount of cello and violin, and manage to maintain a consistent musical theme. They take a sound like that of the Octopus Project, which is cool music with little to no words, and...well, they give it words.

I honestly have no idea why a song like "Inside of Me" isn't on the radio all the time. When I heard it was when I thought of the Raconteurs because, as I suggested above, it's what "Steady As She Goes" would be if it were innovative and worthy of the radio time it seems to be getting. All in all, if I were giving stars or grades a la magazines, Drowaton is a solid 4.5 stars or A- effort.

As for their other two albums, Dreams That Stuff Was Made Of (2000) and Built on Squares (2003), it was interesting working backwards in their catalog and hearing just how the components of their sound came together (Is there anything better that discovering a great band after they've already put out a few albums? It's like discovering a fantastic television show in the middle of season 2 or 3 and realizing there are a ton of episodes to watch...which is what just happened to us with Veronica Mars. But I digress. I always do.). You can hear them starting with what sounds like a Stones or U2 guitar lick and taking it in a strange direction. With each album, the direction gets stranger, and the music gets better and more original.

There was an
article in the Tulsa World recently, in which Scott Booker, the manager of the Flaming Lips (who, strangely enough, used to work at Rainbow Records), talks about the emerging Oklahoma City arts scene.

"There's no reason that the state of Oklahoma can't have a thriving -- and lucrative -- entertainment industry based in the state. . . . I'm not just talking about the music industry, but the movie, TV, literary, science and education industries."
In the past (e.g. the 18 years that I lived in Oklahoma), I'd have chuckled at any sentence with "Oklahoma City" and "arts scene" in it (in fact, I made a snide comment about the dearth of good rock bands in Oklahoma in my At War With the Mystics review), but I must say I'm quite impressed. I take back any previous scoffs and plead ignorance. If there are more bands worth discovering in the area, and if Starlight Mints are just the tip of the iceberg, then it looks like I'll be visiting my parents in OKC a lot more often.